Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Local firms pitch in on Charley cleanup



By Mike Boyer
Enquirer staff writer

Even as the final cost of Hurricane Charley remains unclear, several Cincinnati corporations are chipping in to help in the storm's aftermath.

More than 160 Cinergy Corp. volunteers - mainly linemen and supervisors - are helping restore power south of Punta Gorda, the area hardest hit by the hurricane.

The workers, who left Friday, expect to spend about two weeks in the service area of Florida Power & Light, which requested the assistance. They will put up utility poles, run wire and rebuild transformers, spokeswoman Kathy Meinke said.

Cintas Corp.'s nine operations in Florida were undamaged by the weekend storm. The Blue Ash uniform supplier is making delivery trucks in the Fort Myers area available to move emergency supplies.

Dick Surdykowski, vice president for Cintas' southeast region, said Cintas has 18 trucks available to help deliver water, ice and other supplies.

"Things are kind of confused right now, so it's hard to know where to go first," he said from his office in Atlanta.

Convergys Corp., which has more than 7,000 employees in five operations across Florida, is also operating after escaping major damage.

Fifth Third Bank expected the last of its 16 branches in the Naples/Fort Myers area to reopen Monday when power was restored. All the offices closed Friday as the storm approached, and about half remained closed Saturday.

A bank spokeswoman said none of its branches, including the three in Punta Gorda, was seriously damaged by the storm. All of its 200 employees in the region also escaped unharmed.

The biggest financial impact from the storm is likely to fall on insurers, including some based in Greater Cincinnati.

John Von Lehman, the chief financial officer of Midland Co., an Amelia-based insurer, said it was too soon after the hurricane to know the extent of the damage and what exposure the company might face from the storm.

"We have staff adjusters on the ground and are placing calls to policyholders," Von Lehman said Monday.

The storm damaged many of the state's orange groves. DeSoto, Polk and Hardee counties - which produced almost a third of 203 million boxes of oranges the state sold last year - were hit the hardest.

As a result, orange-juice futures for November delivery rose in New York by the exchange limit of 5 cents, or 7.9 percent, to 68 cents a pound on the New York Board of Trade. That was the biggest gain since July 2001.

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The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed.




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